The area around the incredibly interesting Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_II,_Holy_Roman_Emperor) not-so-humble hunting lodge/military fortification Castel del Monte (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/398/) has long hosted vast plantings of nero di troia and bombino nero vines.
Wines from the general area were once famous, but their reputation had all but evaporated when, in the 1950’ies, a certain Sebastiano de Corato started making a fresh, fruity rosè from bombino nero grapes and had almost instant success. His property, Rivera, soon came to be synonymous with Apulian wine, and the area was among the first to adopt new viticultural and winemaking practices in Apulia. Unfortunately, this also meant that, in large part, the original vineyards grown ad alberello – ie with bush vines – were replanted in favour of more “modern” systems, in particular the dreadful tendone system.
The main red grape variety of the region, alternatively known as nero or uva di troia, is a difficult grape variety in the sense that it produces wines with lovely, juicy small-dark-berry aromas, a certain spiciness sometimes veering towards geranium, and fierce tannins. If the grape material is dilute due to high yields, and if phenolic ripeness is compromised due to poor sun exposure, irrespective of the fairly late-ripening nature of the variety, the green and huge tannins will render resultant wines unbelievably harsh, bordering on undrinkable. What with the tendone system, this result is all but guaranteed, so when the red wines of Castel del Monte became codified into a DOC, it became mandatory that the noble nero di troia be blended with other, softer grape varieties.
Enter the house of Torrevento and its then enologist, Pasquale “Lino” Carparelli. Lino had the vision, technical skills and access to a very special site, the by now well-known Vigna Pedale, to come up with a lovely red wine made from 100% nero di troia, named after the vineyard. The Vigna Pedale, though daring, was an immediate success and has subsequently spawned many new 100% nero di troia red wines. Initially, many of these, coming from vineyards planted with the tendone system, were unbelievably harsh, but vineyard management systems and winemaking understanding have subsequently improved to the point where there are now many excellent wines being made from pure nero di troia. The Castel del Monte DOC was consequently changed to accommodate pure nero di troia wines and has subsequently become a DOCG for some of the typologies. Other red wines from the area are notably based on the great southern variety of aglianico.
The bombino nero variety, meanwhile, continues to be used for rosé wines. The variety is peculiar for its uneven ripening, which sees bunches with perfectly ripe grapes interspersed with unripe, almost green grapes. The resulting acidity and freshness lends itself well to making rosés, but unfortunately it often produces rather well-made but fairly neutral wines, with notable exceptions.
The Castel del Monte area forms part of the large Murge area of Apulia. The landscape consists of large, benched ridges of karstic limestone with shallow, slightly green valleys between them. Top soil is exceedingly thin and there is no surface water to be found anywhere in the area. Altitudes generally vary between 150 – 300 metres. The climate near the Adriatic coast may have some marine influence, but otherwise the area relies on cooler air from the northwest to cool it down during the fierce summer months. This is not an area for viticultural wimps.
Azienda Agricola Tarantini (www.aziendatarantini.it) near Corato finds itself in the middle of this historical and viticultural heartland. The producer has resolutely embraced the more modern methods, and – to its great credit – has engaged with Lino Carparelli as a consulatant enologist. Few people, if any, understand the area and its grape varieties better than him. Tarantini have 12 hectares under vines, and at the one-on-one meeting showed three wines, as follows:
Castel del Monte Rosato 2011
This is made from 100% bombino nero. Lovely fresh raspberries on the nose, slightly spicy, with a hint of some dry component. Light and fresh in the mouth, restrained acidity, quite mild. OK length with raspberries, slight spiciness. A good example of a bombino nero rosè, not as neutral as some.
Petrigama Aglianico 2009
This is made from 100% aglianico. Lovely fresh nose of juicy dark berries, tobacco, dry spices, a bit of geranium and then some plum. Juicy dark berries in the mouth, with a lovely, firm tannin and some dry spices. Good, minerally length with tobacco, fresh fruit and spices. A delicious wine, not as daunting as some aglianicos can be, but fresh and very drinkable.
Petrigama Nero di Troia 2009
This is made from 100% nero di troia. Nose of dark fruit, quite deep and round, slight tar and dry spiciness. Juicy but round in the mouth, again with dark fruits, spices and tar. Good length, minerally, flowery and lightly spicy. This is a very good wine indeed, but oddly I seem to miss the slightly green-tinged geranium note that I otherwise often encounter in nero di troia wines. Perhaps I have merely become used to nero di troia wines made from not entirely phenolically ripe grapes? Nonetheless, since this is typical for me, I look for it and have rather grown to like it.
Note: Not much of a web site. Hope they will be doing something about that shortly. The wines deserve a better showcase.